DVD Extras (box sets only) include:
That said, the setting and main challenge are laid out with clarity and gusto in this opening, perfectly setting the audience up to understand the episode's bizarrely different title. Perfect. One can argue that the setting isn't all that much more original than the season's other offerings, with the exterior and associated computer voice messages paralleling "The End of the World" (story no. 162) quite closely, and the spaceship interiors paralleling the interiors of "The Impossible Planet" (story no. 178) in their gritty, industrial stylization of future space travel. Fine and dandy, but also note that I ranked those two stories at the top of their respective seasons, in part because of the imagination that went into their environments, and you will understand why "42" is giving us more of a good thing.
It's also sweet icing on the cake to hear the bit of dialogue near the beginning of the tale, when the Doctor satisfies his curiosity to know exactly where in the galaxy we are. It's the Toragy system, half a universe away from Earth, and not constrained by any of the numerous past, present, and future histories of Earth that we have learned from the show so far. That leaves so many possibilities open for the adventure to go in surprising new directions. And explore those directions it does.
It is very cool to explore the idea of a sun being a living creature, but for me the surprise was not so much the fact that it was alive as the fact that the other characters and the writers thought this was a rare and unanticipated situation - something which I suspect will one day make this story seem a bit dated. I automatically assume that all matter is alive, especially celestial bodies, and more especially suns and stars, albeit limited to a first density consciousness. To learn more about the density scale of consciousness in living forms, check out our article on "The Fourth Density". Curiously though, this Toragy sun seems to have developed the ability to express intelligence at a second or possibly third density as well. Very cool. This is why it's called science fiction, folks.
The plot proceeds along the typical formulae for a bottle story, with just enough whodunit thrown in to keep things interesting. As such tales go, this one is much better constructed than "The End of the World". Many typical story beats have the regulars and guest characters learning to work together to solve problems and put out fires, providing us with a base level of satisfaction. The counter stratagems of the antagonist's forces are also logical and believable, while maintaining a good deal of mystery until later stages of the story. But while the tale could rest on its laurels here and still be guaranteed a successful standard, it goes on to include a few unanticipated story beats as well. About half-way through the Doctor and Martha get to play a truly shocking, heart-stopping moment, with a very noticeably different atmosphere to everything that lead up to it. And there seems to be no logical way out of the predicament. If the show ever had to be converted back to 25-minute episodes, this would probably make the best natural cliffhanger of the season, and be perfectly timed. Sweet.
The guest characters are perhaps a bit less memorable than those of both "The Impossible Planet", which had twice as much time to develop its characters, and "The End of the World", which spent so much time parading them as caricatures that little time was left to involve them in a truly engaging plot. But the characters in this story remain a bit more enigmatic, and get the most believably "unstaged" introductions of the three stories. It is very cool to have the Doctor repeat their names as he meets them, often with far more clarity than their own Welsh accents could provide, because that helps him, and consequently the audience, remember their names when the end credits finally roll.
Director Graeme Harper has definitely worked his magic again on this one, creating a compelling atmosphere and a driving pace that keeps viewers glued to the screen and wanting to know what will happen next. Even for those who have already seen it, there's enough here to still be taken by surprise on repeat viewing. The one drawback to the story may be the large quantity of technobabble that is rushed through, both by actors with Welsh accents that are too thick to be easily understood outside Wales when speaking invented jargon at that speed, and by the Doctor who often rushes through too much jargon too quickly as well.
One of the more disappointing aspects of the story is handed down from the executive producers: all the screen time spent finally acknowledging Martha as a proper companion. It's simply too late in the season for this to still be interesting, and we end up reliving too many of Rose's scenes from "The End of the World" and elsewhere that were never a good idea in the first place. Anything centered around the ridiculously magical cell-phone is the worst offender for me, with the conversations with her Mum being one of the most boring aspects of the story, and to quote her Mum's most accurate observation, most unwatchably, unpleasantly "rude". At other times, Martha's speech seems to have fallen into an ugly parody of Rose's, turning "th's" into "f's", and adding "yeah?" on the end of her statements to make them questions that beg for agreement. Ick. And weird, since Martha thankfully hadn't seemed to have ever spoken this way on the show previously.
However, when all is said and done, the Mr. Saxon angle is presented in the most intriguing fashion yet this season. In fact, it even seems to have developed into a proper conspiracy angle. Nice job. Much, MUCH better than what we got in the last story. Thank you, Chris Chibnall. On first viewing, however, it was still far less than what I'd hoped for. I wanted a full on revelation of the Master (or the Sontarans), and hopefully as far away from the over-used Earth settings as possible. It was starting to feel like the season had really delayed both of these revelations for far too long to remain well-constructed.
This story has become available on DVD.
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Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.
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